Resident Evil (2002)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 3/15/02
Director: Paul Anderson
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez

Raccoon City is a small mid-western town that just happens to be sitting on top of Umbrella Corporation's top secret genetic research facility known as "The Hive." When the deadly T-Virus is accidentally released, the Hive's automated defense systems attempt to contain the virus by sealing off the facility and killing everyone inside. Thinking that the facility's computer caretaker (Red Queen) has gone insane, Umbrella sends in a task force to infiltrate the Hive, take the Red Queen offline, and rescue any survivors. They get more than they bargain for when they discover that the Hive is swarming with flesh-eating zombies, and the team gets picked apart one by one as they make a desperate attempt to escape.

As a video game adaptation, I had low expectations for this film - especially since George Romero's original screenplay had been ditched (and he knows a thing or two about zombie movies). And after the abomination known as "Street Fighter" (1994), I was surprised that Capcom would risk the integrity of yet another one of their best franchises. As a video game adaptation, it takes an interesting approach. Instead of taking characters and events from the video game series, the film builds a story based solely on the premise and the setting of the "Resident Evil" games - namely that Umbrella is involved in some very unpleasant business. It borrows certain visual elements from the games (primarily "Resident Evil 2" (1998) ) that fans will find pleasantly familiar, but Chris Redfield, Claire Redfield, Jill Valentine, and Leon Kennedy are nowhere to be found. This certainly eliminates the difficult issue of trying to cast actors for these roles, which fans of the series would be very critical about. The one crucial element that's missing is that the zombies don't moan and groan like they do in the games, making many of the zombie scenes look like outtakes from Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

For what it is, the film is surprisingly entertaining and it moves along at a breakneck pace. Sure, it's predictable and full of god-awful clichés, but the action takes precedence over the story. But what really holds the film together and makes it work is the intense and unflinching presence of Milla Jovovich. She is fascinating to watch and her action scenes are wonderful. She has very little dialog, but she really doesn't need any. Her face is so expressive that just a twitch of an eyebrow or a quiver of her lip can tell you exactly what she's thinking and feeling. She's also stunningly beautiful and bad to the bone. Without her, the film would definitely be a chore to watch. It's also interesting to note that we don't even know the name of her character until the end credits. In effect, this empowers her as a force instead of as a person, much like Clint Eastwood's "man with no name." And she is quite a force to be reckoned with... Overall, "Resident Evil" is good mindless fun with a heavy helping of cartoon violence. Horror buffs will likely be disappointed, but female action fans should be pleased.